Tag Archives: vocabulary

Parlez Vous? Formal Instruction in French Language

While you can get by in Paris without speaking French (particularly if you speak English), it’s not a strategy I’d recommend.  You will be constantly frustrated, both by your inability to fully understand what is going on around you and your inability to say what needs to be said.   And the people with whom you are trying to communicate will get crabby too.  So do yourself a favor, even if you think you have no talent for languages, and make an effort. 

In the city of Paris, every mairie (town hall for the arrondissement) offers some kind of instruction for French language learners.  These vary in their intensity and quality; what they do have in common is they tend to be close to your home and the fees are quite reasonable.  The downside is that the instruction is variable and the classes often quite large. These sessions fill up quickly so don’t mess around once you figure out when registration will take place. 

There are dozens of options in Paris for language learners.  Here are a few that seem to pop up on everyone’s list. As always, leave a comment if you have information to share about these or other programs.

Alliance Francaise
101, boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris
Rolling enrollment; options range from 4 to 20 hours per week.

Ecole PERL
6, rue Spinoza
75011 Paris
Standard and intensive courses with class size limited to 15 students; rolling enrollment with courses starting throughout the year.

French As You Like It
Private French lessons focused on learning grammar and vocabulary for practical everyday purposes.  Learn the French you need for business or to go to the market.  Private and semiprivate (up to 4 students) offered for children as well. 

Institut Catholique de Paris
21, rue d’Assas
75006 Paris
A wide range of French language programs are offered on a traditional academic calendar, although there are also intensive short courses.

Institut de Langue Française (ILF)
3, avenue Bertie-Albrecht
75008 Paris
A variety of courses offered at all levels including private instruction and special courses for kids.  Standard courses are 10 or 20 hours per week with courses beginning the first of each month; classes limited to 15 students.

Institut Parisien
27, boulevard des Italiens
75002 Paris
General courses are for 15 or 20 hours per week with workshops also offered in conversation, phonetics, and written French.  One on one instruction is also available as is a special program for au pairs.

Lutece Langue
23, boulevard Sebastopol
75001 Paris
Intensive and standard courses with start dates every Monday.   This school also offers short courses for those whose schedules do not permit them to attend regular classes as well as private and semi-private tutoring. 

Paris Langues
30, rue Cabanis
75014 Paris
Small group instruction at range of levels with new courses starting each month; courses range from 2 weeks to 9 months.

16 bis rue de l’Estrapade
75005 Paris
The Sorbonne’s courses in French language and civilization are suitable for levels from beginner to advanced.  There are a lot of options in terms of intensity, time of day, and focus.

Verlaine Langue
18, rue Martin Bernard
75013 Paris
Small group (no more than 6 students) with instruction daily (1.5 hours per day) and the expectation that you will complete 1.5 hours of homework daily.  Courses start every Monday.  No advanced courses.

Deciphering Acronyms Used by French Language Programs

CECR : Cadre Européen Commun de Référence
CERT: Certification
CFTJ : Club Français du Tourisme des Jeunes
CIDJ : Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse
CIJP : Centre International des Jeunes à Paris
CIEP : Centre International d’étude Pédagogique
DALF : Diplôme d’Approfondissement de la Langue Française
DELF : Diplôme d’étude en Langue Française
ECTS: European Credit Transfer System
FLE : Français Langue Étrangère
TCF : Test de Connaissance du Français
TEF : Test d’Évaluation du Français

Special thanks to Maureen Bartee for collecting much of this information.


Getting Ready for School

Who doesn’t love fresh clean notebooks, sharpened pencils, and a brand new set of crayons? And what could be more baffling than the list of required school supplies from your child’s school? Here’s a quick guide to the school supply vocabulary, including an explanation of some of the items that may be new to you.  These lists tend to be very specific in terms of the size, style, and color of the items.  Double check what you’ve got before you head to the register.

Writing implements

Stylo: Pen.  It comes in several varieties:  le stylo à bille (ballpoint), stylo à plume (a fountain pen).

Crayon: Aack! The word crayon is a faux ami because it’s not from Crayola.  It’s simply what we Anglophones call a pencil.  The designation H.B. is roughly akin to the American designation No. 2.

Crayons de couleur:  Colored pencils

Surligneur:  Highlighter

Porte mine:  Mechanical pencil

Stylo correcteur : correction fluid in a pen

Pochette de 12 feutres de couleur :  A package of magic markers.  Your list may specify lavable (washable), pointe fine (small point) or pointe large (larger sized point).

Feutre d’ardoise:  White board marker

Effaceur:  Eraser.   Available in the same shape as a pen or pencil to fit neatly in your trousse (see below)

Gomme:  The classic eraser

Cartouches d’encre : ink cartridges (On the supply list, this would mean cartridges for a pen but the same word is used for your computer.)

Other tools

Agrafeuse:  stapler

Ardoise:  Traditionally a chalkboard but now it’s also used to describe an erasable white board.  With this, you need feutres d’ardoise (see above) and a chiffon (a rag).

Taille-crayons:  Pencil sharpener.  If it says avec reservoir, that means it has a piece to capture the shavings.

Règle plate: a ruler.  These come in 20 and 30 centimeter sizes

Rapporteur: protractor

Équerre: triangle

Compas: compass

Art supplies

Ciseaux: scissors.  If your child is young, you probably need to get those with the rounded tips (bout rond).

Baton de colle:  glue stick

Scotch:  Yes!  It’s tape.

Rouleau de ruban adhésif sans dévidoir:  Tape without a dispenser

Tubes de gouache:  watercolors that come in tubes

Pinceaux de tailles différentes:  paintbrushes in different sizes

Gobelet en plastique, sans couvercle :  a plastic cup without a cover


Cahier:  a notebook, usually bound and stapled, rather than spiral.  And don’t go looking for one that’s lined.  Instead there are two formats:  grand carreaux, which has large squares with horizontal lines for normal writing and petits carreaux, which has 5mm squares for technical drawing and geometry.  Cahiers come in various sizes, both in terms of the size of the paper and the number of pages.  Make sure you check the list carefully!

The grand is the same size as a piece of A4 paper, which is the standard paper you would use in your printer or copier in France (slightly larger than an American 8 ½  x 11 sheet).  There are also specialized cahiers such as the cahier de musique, cahier de texte, and cahier de travaux pratiques.

Pochette de papier dessin :  drawing paper

Feuillets mobiles perforés :  looseleaf paper for a binder (see below)

Copies doubles perforées :  small sized paper (equivalent to an A3 sheet folded in half)

Oeillets: reinforcements for your looseleaf paper


Porte-documents:  A plasticized folder with plastic sleeves for papers.  You can buy these in a variety of sizes: 40, 60, 80 or 100 vues.

Chemise rabats à élastiques:  A cardboard folder with elastic bands that keep everything secure.

Classeur:  a loose leaf binder.  It can be souple (made of a flexible plastic) or rigide (made of a stiff cardboard).

Pochettes:  Usually used to describe plasticized sleeves for documents.  These can be perforated to fit in a looseleaf binder

Intercalaires:  Subject dividers for use with your classeur.


Trousse:  A pencil case and no proper French student (no matter what age) would be caught dead without one.

Cartable:  a school bag.  Traditionally, it was a satchel with a handle and maybe a shoulder strap.  But it’s also now used to refer to backpacks (sacs à dos) as well.


Protège-cahiers :  See through plastic covers for your cahiers.  These come in different sizes and colors.

Rouleau de plastique pour couvrir les livres :  plastic that can be used to cover textbooks.

General notes:  Sometimes the supply list will note the desired brand (marque).

French for Shopping

This is the first in a series of posts drawn from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource  created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France.   Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials.    Make sure you follow the links in each post back to her site for the sound files.

From the French VII tutorial:  follow this link and scroll down the page midway to “Going Shopping” 


department store la grande surface  
outlet store le magasin d’usine 
second-hand shop la boutique d’articles d’occasion 
discount store le magasin hard discount  
flea market le marché aux puces 
department le rayon
to go window-shopping faire du lèche-vitrine
to go grocery shopping faire les courses
mini market la supérette
supermarket (food) le supermarché
super store (everything) l’hypermarché (m)
shopping center le centre commercial
fitting room la cabine d’essayage
club/loyalty card la carte de fidelité
heels des talons
flip-flops des tongs
tank/halter top le débardeur
underwire bra le balconnet
thong le string
spotted à pois
flowery à fleurs
frilly à frous-frous
glittery à paillettes
striped à rayures


Est-ce que je peux vous aider ? / Je peux vous renseigner ? / Vous désirez ? Can I help you?
Non, je regarde seulement.
No, I’m just looking.
Je vais réfléchir.
I’ll think about it.
Quelle est votre taille ? Vous faites du combien ?
What is your size? What size do you wear?
Quelle est votre pointure ? Vous chaussez du combien ?
What is your shoe size? What size shoe do you wear?
Ça va, la taille ? C’est la bonne taille ? Is the size right?
C’est trop grand. / C’est trop serré. It’s too big / too small.
Ça coûte combien ?
How much does this cost?
C’est en solde ?
Is it on sale?
Quelle escroquerie ! / Quelle arnaque !
What a rip-off!
Avez-vous une carte de fidélité ?
Do you have a club card?
Vous réglez comment ? / Vous payez comment ? How are you paying?
En espèces/par carte bleue. Cash/with a bank card.

A good way to increase your vocabulary is to look at ads for stores that are available online, such as Carrefour, Géant, Monoprix, etc.

Writing a French Check

There’s not a lot to writing a French check, just enough, if you are an American, to get you thoroughly confused. The formula is simple. And the real trick? Don’t switch back and forth between writing French and American checks.

Checks are used quite frequently in France so you may find yourself writing a lot more checks than you did back home.

Take a look at this typical French check.

Follow the numbers and here’s how you write out your check:

1.  The amount of the check in text, for example, “deux mille trois cent vingt trois euros et 45/100 centimes”.  See below if you need help with your numbers.   The line below is a continuation of this line.  Draw a line through it if you are able to write the full amount on the first line.

2.  This is where you write the name of the payee, the person or organization to whom you are writing the check.

3.   Write out the amount in figures, for example 2.323,45 € Note that the French use a comma (virgule) instead of a period to denote the decimal spaces.   Similarly, they use a period (point) where we would use a comma.  For extra insurance, write the centimes figure higher up with a line underneath.  Make sure to put a hash mark through the stem of the number 7 so it is not read as a 1.

4. Write the name of the town where you wrote the check.

5.  Write the date.  Remember that the French put the date ahead of the month, as in 18 juin 2008.

6.  There’s no line but you should sign your name in this area.

All done! 

Tip:  Print out this post and stick it in your checkbook so you’ll have it handy when you need it.


1:  un
2: deux
3: trois
4: quatre
5: cinq
6: six
7: sept
8: huit
9: neuf
10: dix
11: onze
12: douze
13: treize
14: quartoze
15: quinze
16: seize
17: dix-sept
18: dix-huit
19: dix-neuf
20: vingt
21: vingt et un
22: vingt-deux 
23: vingt-trois
24: vingt-quatre
25: vingt-cinq
26: vingt-six
27: vingt-sept
28: vingt-huit
29: vingt-neuf
30: trente
40: quarante
50: cinquante
60: soixante
70: soixante-dix
71: soixante-onze
72: soixante-douze
80: quatre-vingts
81: quatre-vingts-un
90: quatre-vingts-dix
91: quatre-vingts-onze
100: cent
200: deux cent
1000: mille
2000: deux-mille

Months (always in lower case)

Rules of the Road

One could dedicate an entire Web site to driving in France but let’s start with the basic rules of the road. In future posts, we’ll cover obtaining a French drivers’ license and more road signs.

Respect Speed Limits

Autoroute: 130 km/h in dry weather; 110 km/h when it’s raining
Major divided highways: 110 km/h in dry weather; 90 km/h when it’s raining
Other roads: 90 km/h in dry weather; 80 km/h when it’s raining
Within city limits: 50 km/h
In central business districts: 30 km/h

Note: The speed limit on the Périphérique (the ring road around the city of Paris) is always 80 km /h.

Be aware that city speed limits begin at the town or city sign (not always where the first 50 km/h sign is situated), usually denoted by a white name panel with a red border, and the limit ends where the name panel has a diagonal black bar through it.

Fixed speeding cameras are usually preceded by a warning sign advising motorists that that there is a speeding camera ahead.

Radar traps are frequent in France. It is entirely possible to receive a citation through the mail because of a violation caught remotely on camera. In France, anyone caught traveling at more than 25km/h above the speed limit can have their license confiscated on the spot.

From left to right: speed limits on autoroute, radar camera ahead, speed limit, end of speed limit

Priorité à Droite

Unless otherwise marked, cars entering a roadway from the right have priority over the traffic already on the road or in the circle.   That is, the driver entering from the right does not have to stop; rather, other drivers are required to slow down and yield the joining vehicle.   Be alert for traffic entering from the right particularly while navigating large intersections and places in Paris.    In the countryside and in small villages, you will encounter situations where countryside lanes entering major routes have the priority over the main roadway.  Proper roundabouts will be marked with a sign “cedez le passage” which means entering traffic yields to the traffic in the circle.   Bottom line:  be alert to the traffic around you.

Buckle Up

French laws require mandatory use of seatbelts for both front and rear seat occupants. A driver is subject to receive penalty if he/she or the front or rear seat passengers are not buckled with a seatbelt while the car is in motion.

Keep the Kids Safe

Children under 10 are not allowed to travel in the front seat. In the rear they must use a proper restraint system appropriate to their weight, either a car seat or a booster seat as appropriate. Drivers failing to comply are subject to being cited.

Motorcyclists: Wear a Helmet

Wear a safety helmet while driving a motorcycle. Motorcyclists not wearing approved safety helmets are subject to both fines and impoundment of the vehicle at the scene. is subject to be fined.

Don’t Use Your Mobile Phone While Driving

It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in France. Drivers caught using a handled device such as cell phone or PDA are subject to a fine. French law says that “the driver must be able to do any emergency operation at all time with his two hands.”

Don’t Drink and Drive

France has strict drunk driving laws. Driving while intoxicated — whether by alcohol, drugs, hallucinogens, sedatives or other controlled substances — is a serious violation.  The limit for alcohol is 0.50 g/ liter of blood. Drivers shown to be intoxicated by a blood alcohol or other test can be fined, a fine, have their vehicle impounded at the scene, their driving license subject to immediate suspension, and face possible jail time for 24 hours.

Carry a Warning Triangle and Vest

Drivers in France are required to have a warning triangle and a reflective vest in their cars at all times; in fact the vest should be in the car rather than in the trunk so keep it in your glove box or under a seat. The idea is that if your car breaks down, you should put on the vest before exiting your vehicle. This is a relatively recent requirement and police may be conducting random checks to ensure that you have the proper safety equipment with you.

Respect Red Lights

There is no “right on red” in France. Drivers who run red lights at intersections controlled by traffic lights are subject to citation.

Carry a Valid Drivers’ License

Carry your driving license and registration card at all times. Drivers found not to be carrying their driver’s license, registration and insurance cards while operating a car or motorcycle will be ticketed. The French police regularly set up checkpoints to screen drivers for their license and registration documents.

In Case of Breakdown, Accident or Emergency

If you are involved in or witness to an accident, keep calm and move your car to a safe place out of the way of the traffic and turn off the engine. Keep yourself safe.

The key numbers to remember are:

Police — dial 17
Fire — dial 18
Ambulance — dial 15

If you do not have a working cell phone, bear in mind that expressways and main highways have roadside emergency telephones every 2 kilometers.

If there are any injuries, inform authorities of the exact location of the accident, the number of injured persons, and the extent of their injuries. The first responders will then give you instructions. Until the first responders (including ambulances) arrive, give first aid to the best of your ability. Do not leave the scene of the accident until police officers arrive.


Aire de repos: rest stop
Allumez vos feux: Turn on your lights
Attention au feu:  Beware of traffic signal
Attention travaux:  Beware roadwork
Autre directions: Other directions
Barrière de dégel: Trucks not allowed
Chaussée déformée:  Bumpy road
Cédez le passage: Give priority to the other road
Centre ville:  Town center
Chambres d’hôtes:   Bed and Breakfast
Col:  Mountain passes
Fermé:  Closed
Gendarmerie:  Police station
Gîte:  Simple bed and breakfast
Gratuit:  Free of charge
Gravillons:  Loose chippings
Haute tension:  High voltage power line
Hors gabarit:  Road, bridge, or tunnel closed to vehicles exceeding certain dimensions
Interdit aux Piétons: No pedestrians
Nids de poules:  Potholes
Ouvert: Open
Péage:  Toll road
Rappel:  Remember
Route barrée:  Road closed
Sens unique: One-way
Serrez à droite:  Keep to the right
Sortie:  Exit
Suivre:  Follow
Sur: On
Toutes directions:  All directions
Verglas: Ice
Vitesse adaptée sécurité:  Adapt your speed for safety
Voie unique: One-lane road
Voitures: Cars